GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

September 17, 2008

Ferrante's First

By Richard Gaines

Democratic primary voters rose up last night behind reformer Ann-Margaret Ferrante and turned out of office Anthony Verga, a seven-term representative who was actively supported by his political patron, House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, and a coterie of lobbyists.

Winning a solid victory in a three-cornered race was Ferrante, an understated 36-year-old lawyer and daughter of a retired Gloucester fisherman. Ferrante who was making her first run for elective office, though she had managed the campaigns of retired Mayor John Bell.

The third candidate, attorney Astrid afKlinteberg, ran a distant third.

With no Republicans on the November ballot, Ferrante's win is tantamount to capturing the 5th Essex District seat.

Final totals gave Ferrante 3,724 votes and 46.9 percent of the vote.

She beat Verga by 566 votes. He got 39.8 percent of the vote.

AfKlinteberg's total was 1,058, or 13.3 percent.

Since DiMasi became speaker in 2004, Verga was the second member of his stipended leadership team to fall, and it was the first time the defeated incumbent's allegiance to and support from DiMasi played a defining role in the campaign.

"Tonight, Cape Ann said it wanted change, and enough with the status quo" was how Ferrante greeted supporters at the Gloucester House at about 10:30 p.m. "The powerful voice of this community came through and will now ring anew in the halls of Beacon Hill."

She called Verga the "quintessential gentleman" and thanked afKlinteberg for "her service to the Democratic Party and its ideals, which we share."

At 10:30 p.m., two hours after the polls closed, the Verga campaign released the fully counted tally of the candidate's defeat, but declined to comment on the outcome or release a statement conceding the contest to Ferrante.

AfKlinteberg praised herself for setting a good example. "If I have to lose a few elections to model good behavior, I'll do that," she said.

Bell said the outcome was a message to the legislature to end the "disenfranchisement" of Gloucester and other old cities which have suffered inordinately in the distribution of tax revenues and aid controlled by formulas set on Beacon Hill.

More than two thirds of Verga's campaign financing came from addresses outside the 5th Essex District, comprised of Gloucester, Rockport and Essex.

"The speaker should be ashamed of the muscle he brought in to support Tony," said Bell, who was making his first public appearance in the local political arena since he retiring after three two-year terms last December.

"The voters smelled a rat and acted accordingly," Bell added.

He said Ferrante will "deliver believable messages based on hard information." He also said voters had expressed a "renewed confidence in a principled, confident, smart, attractive lover of Cape Ann."

Ferrante six years ago was an organizer of the Northeast Seafood Coalition, an industry research and lobbying group with members throughout Coastal New England and New York that has contested waves of various policies to control fishing and see the stocks of groundfish restored.

Before she went to Suffolk Law School, she was pushed into advocacy by her father, who had been injured and missed a fishing trip on a boat that was lost with its crew.

Joseph Ferrante insisted his daughter go to bat for widows of his mates. In that endeavor she first met and worked with U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, whom she cites as an inspiration.

She also considers herself a protege of Republican state Sen. Bruce Tarr, for whom she worked after graduating from Tufts University with a degree in economics. Tarr breezed through yesterday's primaries unopposed on the Republican ballot, and has no Democratic foe in November.

The Ferrantes and the Vergas, families from the Sicilian fishing community, were so close that her father and the 73-year-old whose seat she claimed Tuesday had sung in the same musical group around Gloucester.

Ferrante, the campaign operative, ran a picture-perfect campaign on the ground, identifying and pulling her committed voters while remaining largely positive in the three high profile debates in the two weeks leading up to yesterday's primary.

The one sharp distinction she drew was to contrast her unqualified belief in the "civil right" of same sex couples to marry. Verga had described the control of marriage as a political issue, appropriate for voter referendum.

Otherwise, Ferrante repeatedly claimed more energy and determination to make things happen.

The defining quality of the campaign, selected by Ferrante, was "aggressive."

Verga's campaign was tripped up by newspaper stories exposing his campaign literature including releases from his committee staff on Beacon Hill as exaggerated or embellished.

One piece of mail claimed Verga "hard work led to the delay" of fishing regulations that even his Web site's narrative did not recognize.

Six days before the primary, it was revealed in the Times that Speaker DiMasi had organized a fund-raising event for Verga at Joe Tecce's Restaurant in the North End that invited a broad array of lobbyists and political action committees to invest in the Verga campaign.

These special and political interests combined to quietly kill key provisions of Gov. Deval Patrick's Municipal Partnership Act, which contained local option increases in the meals and hotel/motel room tax and also would have closed a tax loophole that allowed telecoms to avoid paying for their poles and switching equipment.

The package was estimated to have been worth more than $1 million a year.

Mayor Carolyn Kirk, who has been a leader in the effort of cities to get a fair share of local aid from Boston, and council President Bruce Tobey, who is also president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said they had made it clear how important the tax package was to the city.

Verga's campaign manager, his son Greg, said the representative supported the package but he had not protested when the Revenue Committee dispatched the bill to a study in May.

Richard Gaines can be reached at rgaines@gloucestertimes.com.